Hawaii fighting recruit lawsuit
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When is a promise not really a promise?
Often in college sports recruiting, especially football.
When schools and prospects make oral scholarship agreements with each other, the commitment is not considered binding until put in writing on national letter-of-intent day.
But Daniel Smith of Boise, Idaho, is challenging that arrangement in court, alleging the University of Hawaii broke the law when it did not honor a promise to give him a scholarship after UH changed head coaches from June Jones to Greg McMackin this year. Assistant coach Jeff Reinebold, who went with Jones to SMU, is named in the Circuit Court suit along with the University of Hawaii.
UH attorneys spoke to the Star-Bulletin this week. They say they have a strong case, possibly including precedent from one which Louisville won in 2006.
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Legal precedent could be on the side of the University of Hawaii in a suit filed by a high school football player's family, attorneys for the university told the Star-Bulletin. The suit alleges UH illegally revoked a scholarship offer to defensive back Daniel Smith of Boise, Idaho.
In 2006, a Kentucky jury ruled against Louisville walk-on offensive lineman Ryan Holifield. Holifield had claimed that then-Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino promised him a scholarship if he paid for his first semester of school.
Ryan Akamine, UH's lead lawyer on the Smith case, said the Louisville verdict could have bearing on this one.
"This case is similar to the Petrino case in the claim that a scholarship was promised, and Petrino claimed that a scholarship was not promised," said Akamine, who also noted that the Louisville trial was held before a jury and the UH one will be in front of a judge.
Another facet of the defense might be UH's coaching change.
Greg McMackin replaced Warriors coach June Jones when Jones left to coach SMU in January 2008. UH and former assistant coach Jeff Reinebold (also now at SMU) are named defendants in the suit filed in circuit court last month.
The university's response requests that the complaint be dismissed, and that the school be awarded attorney fees and costs.
Reinebold, who has declined comment, recruited Smith to UH.
Akamine said Reinebold is a "central figure" in the case.
Smith said Reinebold told him to not entertain any offers from other schools after he made his oral commitment to UH in the summer of 2007. Smith said he agreed, thinking that UH would honor its commitment.
"I kept my end of the deal," Smith said in an Associated Press story. "I want the university to keep its end of the deal."
Oral commitments, however, have never been considered binding in college sports recruiting. Players often "de-commit" when a better offer comes along, and schools do the same if they "overbook," or find a better player.
In a phone interview yesterday, Portland State coach Jerry Glanville confirmed that he had offered Smith a scholarship in 2007, which Smith said he turned down after he accepted an offer to UH from Reinebold.
Smith said he tried to find a scholarship somewhere else after he learned UH didn't have one for him, but was unsuccessful.
Glanville said it is common knowledge that oral commitments are not binding in recruiting.
"I had a kid commit to me, and then he commits to Washington State four days before signing day, so now I don't have a defensive end," Glanville said. "Am I suing him? No. It works both ways."
McMackin has declined comment, other than to say that Reinebold was not on the UH staff while McMackin was putting together his first recruiting class in late January and early February.
UH general counsel Darolyn Lendio said the defense will try to "narrow" the case, but it could last "anywhere from a minimum of a year and a half to three years."
Akamine and Lendio said the next step is deposition, where both sides attain more information.
"We're going to request that they clarify what they claim," Akamine said.
"We do know that all they're alleging will not stand up to the facts. We believe we have a good case and the allegations will not be all correct."
Said Lendio: "They're not specific in the complaint. They're very general about the allegations, unclear."
Akamine said "it will be a while" before a trial date is set.
"In about two months we'll have a lot more information," he said.